World Federation of Scientists (Permanent Monitoring Panel – Climatology) weirdness

It has to be weird – the potty peer is pushing it:

Last year’s magistral lecture to the Federation was by Professor Vaclav Klaus, then president of the Czech Republic, whose talk was entitled The manmade contribution to global warming is not a planetary emergency… This year Dr. Christopher Essex, Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Western Ontario and chairman of the Federation’s permanent monitoring panel on climate, gave the Federation’s closing plenary session his panel’s confirmation that “Climate change in itself is not a planetary emergency.”

Anyone vaguely up on reality will be wondering how on Earth VK or Essex ended up giving lectures on climate.

If you look back to, say, 2011 you see that things are sane – I don’t know all the folk there, but the panel has members like Mario Molina (USA); Neville Nichols (Australia); Warren Washington (USA). These are all well known folk whose views carry weight. And there’s a not-terribly-exciting statement about needing data.

Fast forward to 2012 and Essex is chair of the panel. And, err, that’s it for people on the panel. Its just Essex, all alone (so in the quote above, where Essex gave the Federation’s closing plenary session his panel’s confirmation he really wasn’t joking – it is his panel all alone-io). Suddenly the panel has no members, and no associate members, and has nothing to say. Its statements are “Being revised” – or rather, they were said to be in that state in 2012 and still are now. So Essex, having captured the panel, and either thrown everyone out (or more likely they simply wouldn’t work with him) is left with an empty toy. Perhaps the panel will try to tell us that global temperature doesn’t exist again.

Presumably it helped Essex that Zichichi is prez of the WFS. Z has the unenviable distinction of not having his wiki page edit warred over. According to that page, Bethe said of him: “excellent organizer, mediocre physicist”.

Climate Change Policy: What Do the Models Tell Us?

Quite a lot really. Unless, of course, you’re looking at the wrong models in the wrong way. As Robert S. Pindyck does. I do have some sympathy for the paper, but its badly written, somewhat confused, and the author has failed to emphasise some key distinctions.

To begin with where I agree, I’m fairly happy with his assertion that “certain inputs (e.g. the discount rate) are arbitrary, but have huge effects on the [social cost of carbon] estimates”. I’m only “fairly” happy, because to say that the discount rate is “arbitrary” is stupid (which is probably a hint that this thing hasn’t been peer-reviewed; its only a working paper); what he means is, that people of good faith can nonetheless disagree about what the correct value should be. And it is certainly true that how much you think future climate damage should be costed now depends rather heavily on the discount rate. However, this is just the bleedin’ obvious, so he gets no points for that. He also whinges about the uselessness of the models, but fails to realise that for exploring the impacts of different discount rates, or different damage functions, they are quite illuminating.

His paper is about “integrated assessment models” (IAMs) – the things used to turn parametrised versions of climate change into damage estimates. I know little about them, so I’m not going to say much about that bit. Of course his title doesn’t specify that. And while his language in the abstract when he says the models’ descriptions of the impact of climate change are completely ad hoc, with no theoretical or empirical foundation is probably defensible, you have to read it fairly carefully to realise he is talking about the “damage functions” bit there – he isn’t talking about the physical-climate-bit at all in the abstract. Later on he is more careless:

There are two types of inputs that lend themselves to arbitrary choices. The first is the social welfare (utility) function and related parameters needed to value and compare current and future gains and losses from abatement. The second is the set of functional forms and related parameters that determine the response of temperature to changing CO2e concentrations and (especially) the economic impact of rising temperatures.

The arbitrariness of “(especially) the economic impact of rising temperatures” may or may not be correct – like I say, that’s not my thing; though I know enough that damage isn’t just temperature, it ought to be precip too, at least. But he’s quite wrong to say that “the set of functional forms and related parameters that determine the response of temperature to changing CO2e concentrations” is arbitrary. That’s just ignorance on his part.

He does talk about the physical-science-bit, wrapping the discussion around climate sensitivity, which is what it all boils down to at this level. But I don’t think he knows what he is talking about; and instead he just talks up the uncertainties. What he should have written for this section (prefixed with “I know nowt about CS…” is “Compared to the uncertainties elsewhere, the uncertainty in CS is small and we may as well assume 3 oC. Or 2 oC. Or somewhere like that”. Instead he repeats the Roe/Baker heresy even down to the Gaussian bit which I pointed out was wrong ages ago.

mt will be happy that he does point out that the IAM models intrinsically don’t deal with “catastrophic outcomes” well, since they’re built to be smooth, i.e. they’re built not to have any catastrophic outcomes. So he gets a point for that.

What to Do?

Well, don’t read his paper or the “What to Do?” since it doesn’t really go anywhere. Instead, you need to think like Karl Popper (I think; though I could easily have the wrong guy; lets call him “KP” for now) who was talking about building political systems. And laying in to the likes of Plato, who designed their systems around philosopher-kings, who by their very nature were wise and good (even if they were instructed to lie to the populace; but that’s another matter). KP tried to say No; we should not design our systems on the basis that our rulers will be Good; on the contrary, we should design them to survive rulers who are Bad.

Similarly, the answer to “oh noes, our IAM models suffer from unknown damage functions and uncertain discount rates” is not “fiddle with the models” or “select simpler more subjective models”; its to design models that work even if you don’t know such things. Like – aha, you guessed it, I know – a carbon tax that we can ramp up or down slowly as needed.

Why CCS implies over regulation

carbon-tax-now I follow David Hone, though not the details. He’s really keen on CCS, and has (I think) a strong commercial interest in it succeeding. But there is no real answer to “its not commercially viable” – and I think it remains non-viable even at plausible CO2-price levels ($80 / tonne is Sternish, no?). So, inevitably, sigh, the talk turns to regulation (um. Does that ring any bells?).

The latest is Can a technology specific policy exist in a carbon market? I didn’t have the patience to read it all. Just reading a little bit of it is enough to convince me that this is not the right way to go. What is described there (in all seriousness, as far as I can tell) is the way to create yet more heaps of market-distorting environment-distorting regulations and yet more parasitic bureacratic classes.

Carbon Tax Now!

Economist watch: still no sops to the denialists

20130810_LDP002_0 Can China clean up fast enough? asks The Economist. In more detail:

If China were simply following the path of rich countries from poverty through pollution to fresh air, there would be little to worry about (unless you lived in one of those hellish cities). But… When Britain’s industrial engine was gaining speed, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere were the same as they had been for millennia. Now they are half as high again, and not far off 450 parts per million, which most scientists think is the danger level… If China cannot cut its CO2 emissions substantially, then either other countries will have to reduce theirs by more than they are doing now—which seems unlikely—or the world will need to find other ways to cope. That means exploring the possibilities of geoengineering the atmosphere or investing in ways of adapting to higher temperatures, such as drought-tolerant crops. But getting China to cut back further is not a lost cause. The place is vulnerable to climate change: in absolute terms, more people live at sea level in China, and so are threatened by rising oceans, than in any other country. The leadership therefore knows it needs to come up with a more effective means of changing behaviour. The obvious way is through a carbon tax.

All out of the standard playbook. But pleasingly, still not the slightest sign of a sop to the denialists; not even a token “some scientists say”. That’s good, in general, though it does point out (again) that for all the huff and chatter in the blogosphere, the outside world has moved on. My days are numbered, unless I learn some new tricks. Speaking of which:


This year’s sea ice considered unexciting

Well, you may call me a wild-eyed jumper-in-too-early but I’m going to call this year’s sea ice as “unexciting”.


There’s maybe a month left, but there’s no way its going to fall off the scale in that time [*]. Indeed, its looking pretty middle of the road: about the same as 2010 or 2008. Its important to realise, of course, that this isn’t desperately surprising, unless you’re a “death spiraller”. If you’re an “IPCC is roughly right”-er then that level of decline is quite bad enough to fit in with all the std type projections. If you are a death spiraller, then you’re a looney, but I’ve said that already I think. FWIW, PIOMAS is also showing an uptick for 2013.

[*] If you disagree with this, please be prepared to put up money to support your view in a bet. Otherwise I’ll just laugh at you.


* 2012/06 – “How’s my seaiceing?”
* 2013/03 – “When will the Summer Arctic be Nearly Sea Ice Free?” and Girding my loins: sea ice
* 2012/11 – “Sea ice betting report”

The AGU climate policy statement as redrafted by Monckton!

The AGU has a revised policy statement on Human-induced climate change requires urgent action (h/t: everyone).

As with any serious item like this, people release comedy versions. RP Sr had a go and JC threw in her bit, and now Screaming Lord Monckton has had a go, at the home of Blog Science Comedy, WUWT. To paraphrase M’lud:

* Global warming isn’t happening
* But if it was, it would be great

But whilst risible, he wins no points for originality: that kind of stuff is old hat.

So, I proudly announce (don’t let me down now) the Stoat Competition of the Month (ta da!): in your own words (but not to exceed a paragraph or two) just what should Monckton’s statement be? Points will be awarded for every septic talking point included, and deduc[t]ed for every truth you inadvertently include.

[The result: dorlomin (verdict: “easily”) -W]


* Anthony Watts calls inhomogeneity in his web traffic a success – VV

Of course big business loves regulation

An interesting article from Timmy, who makes clearly a point I’ve glimpsed muddily recently. Notice that the point stands, even if you happen to like regulation (I think there is far too much). Permit me to quote (fair use, I’m sure):

Big business positively delights in much regulation… Capitalism… is indeed all about making profit. Get the most out of whatever it is that you’re doing. It’s the market, the competition that it allows, which is what tempers this [] profit gouging. You can’t charge what you like for a pint of beer because there’s another pub around the corner… What regulation does is favour both the incumbents in any activity and also large companies in anything at all. For what worries business is not whether they’re allowed to do something or not: but that other people will find a better way of doing it and thus compete. More regulation means that fewer upstarts can enter the market and any that do are hobbled by that regulation. The more regulation the more the current large companies can continue to be capitalist without having to worry about their practices being tempered by that market competition.

This affects things like, say, Wonga. If you’re certain that Wonga’s rates are too high, then you think they’re making too much profit. In which case, someone else should want to undercut them. What stops other people? Well, a variety of things, including the need to advertise in order to be known. But also, the vast mountains of regulation you’d need to go through to set up any such operation.


* For those who wanted an example of the problems with regulation.
* Lawnmowing licenses: Crony capitalism in action;, 2017.